By Jonathan Decker, Clinical Director, LMFT
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Entrepreneurs of necessity take risks in pursuit of financial independence, yet the largest risk is often that running a business can ruin your marriage. The long hours away from the family, the stress one brings home, and the financial strain have driven many couples apart.
It’s compounded when spouses are business partners: the lines between marriage and work are blurred. Conflicts in the relationship tend to hinder the progress of the business. Entrepreneurial hardship can cause romance to sour.
Yet, as someone who co-runs a successful therapy practice with my wife, I can tell you that entrepreneurship can also elevate your partnership and solidify your love. You may experience together the rush of success, the shared joy of your hard work paying off, and the peace of financial stability. You just need to do it right.
My wife is a driven, accomplished, and focused woman. She sets her mind on something and accomplishes it quickly. She graduated from high school at age 14, then earned two college degrees (one in architecture and one in construction management) going on to a successful career at a young age.
I, on the other hand, dabbled in film-making and stage comedy before becoming a therapist. I worked hard and gained an education, but no one could accuse me of being in a hurry. I always made time for fun and have never been as organized or strategic as she is.
We got married and had five kids. She put her career on hold to raise and teach them, putting our family’s stability in the hands of man who, at the time, earned far less than she had been earning, and who was not used to hitting goals at the pace she hit them.
Bills piled up. We tried to avoid it, but we got into debt. While I felt very competent as a therapist, as a business owner I out of my depth. Despite working 60 hours (or more) a week, we weren’t getting ahead. Our company plateaued. I gained permanent scar tissue on my arm from donating plasma eight times a month, because the extra $200 made a huge difference at the time. I felt inadequate and ashamed. She was frustrated. We argued. The stress was heavy on our marriage. I gained a lot of weight. I wrestled with anxiety. She struggled with depressive symptoms.
For starters, we signed up for a year’s worth of business coaching. We chose E Simplified. who balance coaching with education and the support of a community. The training was intense but the support was excellent. We had to rebrand and redesign our business model from the ground up. Roles shifted as she became CEO (focusing on business and marketing) and I became clinical director (focusing on client needs and the hiring and training of new therapists). Following the guidance of our coach, we began to innovate with online relationship courses to reach a wider audience outside of our state.
It worked. Our business turned around and started thriving.
So did our marriage.
Through late nights and hard work, we became more of a team than we’d ever been, playing to our strengths and finding fulfillment in creating something together that we were proud of, something that would provide security for our family.
In the process, we also learned quite a bit about balancing business ownership with nurturing a marriage. If you’re married and running a company, whether you work with your spouse or not, this advice is for you.
Get Your Spouse’s Support
Either now or sometime down the line, odds are your spouse will take issue with how you manage your business. It may be money issues, time not spent with your family, work taking a toll on your sex drive, irritability, stress, or something else entirely. While your specific situation may need attention in counseling, generally you need your spouse’s support if you’re going to have both a marriage and a business.
Listen to your partner. Be humble and flexible. Implement changes to spend more time with your family. Take as many things off your plate (by delegating or automating them) as you can. If there’s bumps in the road, but you’ve got a good marriage, work through them! Get help: there’s no shame in enlisting the help of a counselor. It’s the mark of wisdom, not failure, to gain skills to keep disagreements manageable instead of waiting until they become major.
However, if your spouse isn’t supportive of your dreams, is abusive, neglectful, or controlling, my advice is to get help or get out! Their resistance to your dreams may be a catalyst to an inevitable end. You can be free to be your best self. But only you can make that decision.
- Create Unified Goals and Shared Vision
You and your partner need to pull together instead of pulling apart. It needs to be both of you against the world, not both of you against each other. Set goals together for your marriage, your business, and your family. Have a weekly planning meeting (also known as a “couples’ council”) to schedule your week, express praise, and resolve conflicts, as well as set and report on goals.
- Make Time for Your Marriage
Nurture your marriage more than your leads. Like a plant, your marriage can wither from neglect. You need to make time to water and give sunlight to your marriage while growing your business. The best way to find time for your marriage is effective task management. Eliminate from your business those practices that don’t yield results. Automate services that a machine, website, or app can do. Delegate tasks that don’t have to be done by you.
When it comes to your time at home, quality trumps quantity. Be present when you are there. Set work aside to connect with your spouse and children when you are home. This is easiest if you schedule non-negotiable time for your family, where work responsibilities are not allowed to interfere. Make date night a priority.
Remember, you work for yourself! You don’t have a boss who can demand you take time away from the family; you alone are responsible for that choice. Of course, work emergencies may come up which take you away from scheduled family time, but those should be the exception, not the rule, and you must make that time up to your spouse and children.
Don’t confuse providing for your family with being a success. Your family needs a home and food, yes, but they also need you. Your time, your love, and your attention. Make sure you make time for them. If you begin to see your family as a hindrance to your business goals, it’s time to re-prioritize.
- Resolve Conflict Effectively
Conflict can pull your marriage apart, but the big secret is that it can also sew your hearts together. If managed well, it can make you more of a team. Don’t try to resolve things when angry. Stop and calm down. Identify what you’re really feeling (hurt, scared, embarrassed, etc.) and express that instead of the anger. Try to see things from your partner’s perspective and express empathy and accountability.
- If You’re Business Partners and Spouses, Do it Right
Going into business together adds stress and work to your marriage. It’s hard to know where the business starts and where the marriage begins. The lines between the two become blurry. Frustrations on one end tend to seep into the other.
However, if you do it right, running a business together can give you the bonding exhilaration of pursuing and achieving shared goals. It can enhance unity through a shared purpose and mission.
So how do you make it work? First of all, clearly outline responsibilities. Who oversees sales? Leadership (running a team)? Finances? Customer service? Product development? If there’s overlap, who reports to who in what area? Who is ultimately responsible in a given area? Sort this out and play to your strengths.
Set large goals, then smaller goals to help you accomplish them. Be accountable to each other for your business goals in your weekly couples’ meeting. Certainly be each other’s cheerleaders, but have enough confidence to give and receive honest feedback and correction without defensiveness.
Most of all, when appropriate, make work fun and romantic! We’ve had many “work date nights” where we turn on some music, order takeout, and work on projects while having a good time.
- Harness the Power of Personality
There are four basic personality types. Dreamers, Thinkers, Healers, and Closers.
Dreamers are driven by ideas and fun. They’re great with innovation, keeping the energy up, and keeping people hopeful. They may struggle with distraction and disorganization. If your spouse is a Dreamer, honor their energy. Allow them to make things fun. Recognize that their use of humor isn’t meant as disrespect. Help them with follow-through.
Thinkers are driven by details and knowledge. They are thorough and meticulous, thinking things through and doing their research. They may be clinical and unemotional. They may also get “analysis paralysis,” failing to act until “everything is just right.” If your spouse is a thinker, express praise and gratitude for their contributions. Swallow your pride, take suggestions, and admit when they are right. Help them to act.
Healers are driven by connection. They are wonderful listeners and are empathetic. At times they are also overly-sensitive, easily offended, and “pushovers.” If your spouse is a healer, allow them to comfort you. Consider your words and avoid making personal attacks. Listen to them and validate them, don’t rush to correct. Help them to stand up for their values and ideas.
Closers are driven by success and accomplishment. They get things done and find a way to overcome obstacles. They can be overly-competitive and blunt to the point of harshness. If you’re married to a closer, do what you say you’re going to do. Be efficient or get out of their way. Be direct, don’t patronize, and be mindful that their bluntness isn’t intended to be hurtful.
Applying this knowledge has been incredibly helpful in our marriage and business. We trust it will do the same for yours.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.